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Do you know what it’s like to be the most popular person in the room? What about the most attractive? No, I don’t either, I was just wondering if any CarAdvice readers had felt the way Mazda must feel in Australia at the moment. Everything the Japanese brand has touched of late has turned to gold and one blinding example of that is the 2016 Mazda 3 Maxx.
Positioned as the second most affordable 3 in the range, the Maxx actually pushes our pick of the 3 range – the SP25, based on our launch review – all the way when you sit down and weigh up driving engagement, pricing and specification. In fact, if you’re shopping on a tight budget, and you don’t absolutely need the 2.5-litre engine, the Maxx is without doubt the model we’d recommend. Yes, it is that good.
With pricing at the forefront of so many buyers’ considerations in this segment, the Maxx is a gold-plated bargain given the premium feel, quality inclusions and drive experience. Pricing starts from $22,890 before the usual on-road costs and our test example doesn’t have any options added to that price aside from the automatic gearbox, which costs an extra $2000. That takes the starting price of our test Maxx up to $24,890 before drive away prices.
The most affordable 3 in the range is the Neo, which starts from $20,490 (manual) plus on-road costs. Added standard feature highlights for the Maxx over the Neo include: MZD Connect multimedia,7.0 inch touchscreen display, satellite navigation, Internet radio integration, DAB+, a rear-view camera, leather steering wheel, shift knob and handbrake trim and paddle shifters.
Standard safety kit was part of the recent revision to standard specification across the range, and as such, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and smart city brake support are included. The amount of standard kit you get at this price point is genuinely impressive. Luxury Euro vehicles with stratospheric price points don’t get some of the gear that the 3 Maxx gets standard.
The Maxx is powered by a 2.0-litre, four cylinder petrol engine, which generates 114kW at 6000rpm and 200Nm at 4000rpm and, as tested, features the aforementioned six-speed automatic gearbox. The engine is pretty high tech too, with stop/start and direct injection, all part of Mazda’s SkyActiv-G technology under the bonnet. All petrol Mazda 3 models will drink regular unleaded, although we tend to run 95RON as a matter of course. The ADR fuel consumption claim is 5.8L/100km with the automatic transmission.
External styling is a Mazda 3 strong point and the Maxx is an attractive small hatch. It’s part of the reason the 3 is so popular in Australia – we definitely buy vehicles on style in this country. Mazda’s Kodo design language delivers a fluidity in the proportions from front to rear. The signature swooping design cues might eat into second row headroom a little compared to the outgoing model, but there is still room for two adults in the second row. One exterior highlight is the stylish 16-inch alloy wheels, with sensible sidewall tyres that add to the driving comfort around town – more on that in a minute.
Our favourite Mazda 3 Maxx element is the interior though, with the cabin a classy step removed from the often austere confines of the competition. While it’s indeed a sea of black, the Maxx cabin feels way more expensive than twenty grand. A large part of the ambience pours straight out of the standard 7.0-inch screen. Mounted at the leading edge of the dashboard, it feels more BMW or Mercedes-Benz than entry level Japanese.
Controlling the system is beautifully simple via the rotary dial that is mounted within easy reach and is incredibly easy to understand even for first timers. Cleverly, the touchscreen function is deactivated when the Maxx is in motion. The satellite navigation software is quick to load and accurate when directing you to a destination. The audio system works well too, with Bluetooth phone connectivity always crystal clear and never dropping out. You also get DAB+ radio and internet radio integration. The screen displays all you need to work through in an easy to understand fashion.
The driving position, visibility and comfort are all perfect. There’s plenty of seat adjustment for tall occupants even in the passenger seat, but keep in mind, tall adults up front will eat into leg space for passengers in the second row. If the Maxx is a family runaround though, there’s more than enough space to truck the brood around.
The second row seats are actually nicely sculpted and comfortable for adults even on longer trips. You tend to sit down into them rather than up on top of them, and the material is both hardy but comfortable. Your passengers will appreciate the second row accommodation, that’s for sure.
The small console bin and small glovebox don’t offer up much space for workers using the Mazda 3 as a mobile office, but there’s safe storage for a wallet and phone ahead of the shifter and the cupholders/bottle holders are well positioned too. The hatch section is low enough to make loading and unloading gear easy and again, there’s enough usable space to haul the kind of gear that most Mazda 3 owners will need to carry.
The only minor negative you’ll find inside the cabin if you’re especially picky is the intrusion of road noise at speed, which is more noticeable than some of the competition, like the Golf, for example. We wouldn’t claim it’s a major issue, but if you drive the 3 back to back with the competition, you will notice it. Below 80km/h, the cabin is very quiet.
On the move, the 2.0-litre engine presents – at city speeds at least – as a quiet and refined powerplant. It’s only when you lean on the throttle a little heavily, or coax the Maxx willingly up to highway speeds (or roll on overtake from say 60km/h), that it starts to feel like you’d be better off with the 2.5-litre engine. Under all other conditions, the 2.0-litre is more than up to the task. The real world fuel usage reflects the fact that the engine has to work harder than its bigger sibling, returning an indicated 10.3L/100km.
The gearbox is crisp regardless of how hard you’re working the engine, and paired with sharp steering, it makes the Mazda 3 Maxx feel like a nimble little hatch. You find yourself darting around town, like you’re piloting a go-kart, such is the all-round balance and feedback. We loved the way the Maxx rode over poor surfaces, thanks in part to sensible 16-inch wheels and tall tyres, but also to an inherently capable suspension tune. While it can turn in sharply and stay balanced through corners, it can also ride comfortably when the going gets nasty – it’s a solid compromise.
We didn’t bother with ‘Sport’ mode other than a brief drive over the duration of our test, and the stop/start system isn’t the smoothest we’ve tested either. We tended to leave it working though, unlike some that we can’t live with all the time and simply have to deactivate. It works well enough, but you can feel the Maxx shudder to a stop and launch back into action, which jars with the largely premium feel of the rest of the vehicle.
As we stated at the outset, the Mazda 3 Maxx really does give the SP25 a red hot run for its money as the overall pick of the 3 range. It’s only pipped by the more effective engine and extra inclusions for those buyers not on a tight budget. In Maxx specification though, we reckon the Mazda 3 earns a solid eight overall, such is its all round ability. It’s not hard to work out why the Mazda 3 is so damn popular with Australian buyers.